Revolutionary discovery: artificial photosynthesis to grow without light

Photosynthesis evolved in plants over millions of years to convert energy from water, carbon dioxide and sunlight into plant biomass and the food we eat. However, this process is highly inefficient, as only 1% of the energy found in sunlight is used up by the plant. However, scientists from UC Riverside and the University of Delaware (USA) They have found a way to completely eliminate the need for biological photosynthesis and grow food without sunlight using artificial photosynthesis.

Research published in the journal, Nature Foodto use a two-step electrocatalytic process to convert carbon dioxide, electricity, and water to acetate, the form of the main component of vinegar. Food-producing organisms then consume acetate in the dark to grow. Combined with solar panels to generate electricity to power electrocatalyzed, this organic-inorganic hybrid system can increase the efficiency of converting sunlight into food, for some foods, it becomes up to 18 times more efficient.

“With our approach, we sought to find a new way of producing food that could transcend the limits normally imposed by biological photosynthesis,” said Robert Jinkerson, assistant professor of chemical and environmental engineering at UC Riverside.


To integrate all system components, the output of the electrolyzer has been optimized to support the growth of food producing organisms. Electrolyzers are devices that use electricity to convert raw materials such as carbon dioxide into useful molecules and products. The amount of acetate produced increased while the amount of salt used decreased, resulting in the highest levels of acetate ever produced in an electrolyzer.

“Using the state-of-the-art two-stage tandem CO2 electrolysis setup developed in our lab, we were able to achieve high selectivity towards acetate, which is inaccessible to conventional CO2 electrolysis routes,” said University’s Feng Jiao. in Delaware.

Can be grown in the dark

Experiments have shown that a wide range of food-producing organisms can be grown in the dark directly at the outlet of the acetate-rich electrolyzer, including green algae, yeasts, and fungus-producing fungal mycelium. Growing algae with this technology saves about four times more energy than growing algae photosynthetically. Yeast production is about 18 times more energy efficient than growing it with sugar, which is typically extracted from corn.

“We were able to grow food-producing organisms without any contribution from biological photosynthesis.. Typically, these organisms are grown with plant-derived sugars or petroleum-derived inputs, a product of biological photosynthesis that took place millions of years ago. “This technology is a more efficient method of converting solar energy into food compared to food production based on biological photosynthesis.”

Tomatoes, rice or peas

The potential to use this technology for growing plants was also explored. When grown in the dark, black-eyed peas, tomatoes, tobacco, rice, canola, and green peas could use acetate carbon.

tomato plants agencies

“We have found that a wide range of crops can take the acetate we provide and turn it into the main molecular building blocks an organism needs for growth and development. With some of the breeding and engineering work we are currently working on, study co-author Marcus Harland-Dunaway adds additional energy to increase crop yields. produce acetate crops as a source of

Artificial photosynthesis frees agriculture from total dependence on the sun, opening the door to countless possibilities. growing food in increasingly difficult conditions imposed by anthropogenic climate change.

Drought, flooding and reduced land availability would be less of a threat to global food security if crops for humans and animals were grown in controlled environments that require fewer resources. Crops can also be grown in cities and other areas not currently suitable for farming.and even provide food for future space explorers.

Less land and less agricultural impact

“Artificial photosynthesis to produce food could be a paradigm shift in the way we feed people. By increasing the efficiency of food production, Less land is needed, reducing the environmental impact of farming. And for farming in non-traditional environments like space, increased energy efficiency could help feed more crews with less input,” said Jinkerson.

This approach to food production NASA’s Deep Space Food Contest with Phase I winner. The Deep Space Food Challenge is an international competition where awards are given to teams that create new and revolutionary food technologies that require minimal input and maximize the production of safe, nutritious and delicious food for long-duration space missions.

“Imagine giant ships someday tomato plants growing in the dark and on marsHow easy would that be for future Martians?” said co-author Martha Orozco-Cárdenas, director of the UC Riverside Plant Transformation Research Center.

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